Beethoven: String Quartets

Guarneri Quartet

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Beethoven: String Quartets Review

by James Leonard

America's Guarneri Quartet recorded the complete string quartets of Beethoven twice -- once in stereo for RCA in the late '60s and then again in digital for Philips in the late '80s and early '90s. The earlier set was recorded at the height of the group's youthful fame, and the performances burn with passionate strength and sensuous energy. The later set, reissued here by Brilliant, was recorded at the first flush of the digital era, and the performances glow with musical wisdom and emotional maturity. Some listeners might prefer the earlier set's driven tempos and hard-edged ensemble; others might incline toward the later set's judicious tempos and smooth-cornered ensemble. There's no doubting the earnestness of either set's performances: Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, Michael Tree, and David Soyer are masterful musicians and ardent individualists who mean what they say and do what they say they'll do. While there have been many superlative recordings of Beethoven's complete quartets -- one thinks of the Old World charm of the Budapest Quartet's cycle, the New World energy of the Emerson, the Old Europe beauty of the Quartetto Italiano, the postwar intensity of the Alban Berg, or the pre-millennial rapture of the Quatuor Végh -- this later set by the Guarneri Quartet arguably ranks with them.

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